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If you're planning to enroll in an online MBA program, you may be worried about your support system. While the majority of traditional campus programs have solid mentorship systems in place for university students to turn to, often as part of their student services center or office, online programs or those for accelerated MBA students can be a bit different. It can be harder to find, or keep up with, a professional mentor or an MBA mentoring program, when you are attending an MBA program online. Even so, first year students (current MBA students) starting in the fall semester can get a lot out of a mentor program, whether it's provided through their workplace as part of their professional journey or the school they are attending.

Before you begin your search, you might want to consider doing some preemptive organization. Set up folders and files on your main laptop, email account, and phone so you can keep track of your progress and easily locate a website, person, or organization you find during your search. Put comments within phone contacts, bookmark websites into a bookmarks folder, and start a document in MS Word or a similar word processor so you can keep track of info, questions you think of, interests or activities you have in common, and make notes on what you did or didn't like about each of the possible mentors you locate or meet with, as the case may be.

You should understand that not every possible mentor will, be they academic or faculty or at the top of your own company, may have an open door policy or be interested in devoting the time required to maintain a mentoring relationship or assist in your career's development or improvement of your leadership skills, professional skills, or professional networks. If MBA students have no access to a mentor program through their MBA program, they can look for online mentors. To find online mentors you should concentrate on three areas: online tools and technology to facilitate your search, effectively communicating with prospective mentors, and curating your online persona to highlight your talents, goals, and abilities while minimizing your flaws. Mentors can help you find ways to pay for your MBA school. Here's a look at each of these three areas:

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Finding Mentors Through Online Tools

If you're already working in a professional environment, then you're aware that it's not just what you know but also who you know that's important in the business world. This can also be true when looking for a mentoring relationship, even if there's an MBA mentoring program available through your degree. Networking is a vital part of succeeding, and every year spent in a business college earning your MBA is a perfect opportunity to connect with other professionals in your community who may become an integral part of your business career both during and after your studies. Keep this in mind while conducting your online search for a mentor during your MBA program and build a full contact record of each person you connect with, even if they're not suitable as a mentor.

Here are some online tools and sources you can use to begin your search for your MBA program mentor:

  • LinkedIn:
    The best known platform for making business connections online, LinkedIn, has over 500 million members worldwide. Make sure your profile is as complete as possible, including education and volunteering details, as well as you work experience. If you have leadership skills or experience and other accomplishments, make sure they're included, too. Look for people and groups within your career field, alumni groups, and professional organizations, as well as those specific to mentoring MBA students or MBA graduates, and read each profile before making the connection rather than sending random connection requests. You want to connect with people who share an interest or experiences with you, could help you develop a strategic skill, or can share understanding or insights you're looking for (such as other women in business). Professional networks should be built with care and kept up to date: It's a good idea to update your connections and profile once every month or two to make the best use of this networking tool, especially if you are going to be extra busy during the academic year.
  • School Resources:
    Most online schools understand the importance of mentorship and have resources available for their students, such as a mentoring program with alumni for MBA students or MBA graduates. Check with your professors and guidance counselors as well as the school directory for tips on finding an MBA mentor. You may find a great one among your school staff (one of the benefits of a brick-and-mortar institution) or within your corporate structure who you've worked with already. Many larger online schools have databases and specific search tools for matching mentors with students, so make sure you continue to check the school resource links page for other sources affiliated with the school.
  • Alumni Groups:
    Most schools have alumni groups and mentorship is often a key component for members. Many successful business owners and CEO's make a point of giving back to their alma mater, so don't disregard these groups just because you haven't graduated from your MBA program yet. They may be vital to you finding or choosing a mentor. In addition to the school you attend today, remember to check the school or schools where you earned your undergraduate degree, as well as social media pages of these organizations.
  • Professional Associations:
    An MBA program can cover a lot of subjects (analytics, finance, etc.) and you're most likely already aware of or employed in your field of choice. However, it's an excellent idea to join as many professional associations as possible. Groups such as the American Management Association (AMA) and Business Network International (BNI) often have mentorship programs or those looking to be mentors for members who are MBA graduates and are on similar career paths and also offer seminars, conferences, and similar professional meetings where you can meet in real life to network and find mentors. Sometimes, these associations are even open to first year students and they can help them build professional networks as they begin their careers.
  • Business Organizations:
    If you're like most online MBA learners, you're already employed in the field of business. Look within your own company for mentor connections, as well as county and state organizations that are connected to your field. For example, if your dream is to run your own business you can find mentorship with the Small Business Association based in your city or county. If your goal is to move up the chain of command with your current employer, check with those in management for mentoring opportunities.

Communicating With Potential Mentors

Once you've identified a possible mentor, you shouldn't jump right in and ask them to fulfill the role. Check out their business, biography, and website to make sure they appear to be a good fit for a mentor. With an online mentor, you'll most likely be communication via email or messaging, so make sure you keep all communications professional and error free. Before you approach your future mentor you should have a clear idea of what you want from the relationship, so you should write an outline or list of expectations you would like to gain from the communication.

Although each situation will be different, here's an idea of what your outline might include:

  • How often you will communicate, such as one or two hours a month - consider setting a schedule
  • Have an agenda in place before each meeting so you don't just end up swapping stories
  • Set realistic expectations for the relationship
  • Communicate expectations from each party
  • Define what you would like to gain from a mentor or at least what is high on your list
  • Identify specific areas and topics the mentor might help with, such as negotiating strategy

In addition, you should make a commitment to yourself to make the most of the mentorship offered:

  • Accept feedback
  • Learn about industry history, jobs, and career paths your mentor might suggest
  • Explore the opportunities and advice your mentor offers
  • Understand they are only human and can't read your mind

Because messaging and emailing is so quick and efficient we often do it while multitasking. This makes our communication prone to errors and typos, and that's the last thing you want to present to a prospective mentor. You should always be clear and concise in order to appear businesslike and professional. Pay attention to details and always proofread emails that are going out to a possible business connection before you hit the "send" button.

Make your subject line effective, such as using a call-to-action format so it has a better chance of being opened upon receipt. In addition, you should maximize your email signature to include all your contact information as well as your LinkedIn profile link, social media information, and website if applicable. This will make it easier for your mentor candidate to examine your personal information and decide if you are a person they might enjoy mentoring. If you have current accomplishments or job positions you feel would be beneficial to your mentor's decision you can add them in your signature line as well.

Above all, when contacting possible mentors make sure you are always businesslike in your communication. Do not use slang terms or trendy words and phrases and always be businesslike. It's an excellent idea to use a business letter format as a template for your initial email contact as it shows you're serious about your MBA needs.

Curating your Online Persona

While keeping your LinkedIn profile up to date with your latest accomplishments is vital to your business persona, other areas of social media can be just as important. It's a good idea to Google yourself every few months and check what pops up, because your future mentor is most likely going to do just that. If you see an unflattering Facebook photo from that party you went to last summer you can go to the page and untag yourself.

Check your social media posts for content that might be considered offensive. If you find more than one or two posts that might be considered controversial, you might want to change your privacy settings so you don't offend a prospective mentor.

You should have a Twitter account and use it effectively. Make regular tweets about your industry and events that might affect your field, follow individuals and companies that are interesting and connected to your business or education, and use hashtags that are industry-specific. On Twitter and other social media sites you can post links to articles that are pertinent to developments in your industry, and sharing posts and articles written by your LinkedIn connections can be an excellent way to nurture career connections and possible mentor relationships.

If your name isn't too common you can sign up for Google Alerts and receive notification whenever your name pops up online. That way you can be aware of any negative information that your prospective mentor might see when they search your name. If something negative pops up in your email alert you can take immediate steps to delete it, and if the alert is positive you can share it to advance your career.

If there are still negative results on the first page of Google, go back to your LinkedIn profile with positive promotion in mind. Add a professional photograph and some long-form articles that reflect your writing ability and they will soon land on that first page of Google that is often examined by mentors and future employers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it usually a struggle to find a mentor?

To be fair, it can be difficult to find a mentor who both supports your interests fully and has time to spend helping you through whatever issues you come across. This is why many programs try to offer a mentorship program for those who really need it. If you are particularly interested in finding a mentor and either you’ve had no luck finding one in your current company or you don’t have the network support to really look, then you might want to make this a perk you are looking for in your MBA program. These mentorship programs usually pull from a pool of alumni in order to offer students the option to reach out to someone with more experience in their field or who aligns with their interests. Make sure you make this part of your school search if this is important to you.

What might a mentor do for you?

One thing about mentorship programs is that, unless you really connect with your mentor, you are likely to have less one-on-one time with them than you might with a mentor you connect with organically. These mentors often have in-person meetings with small groups of students who they are supporting and they might offer tours of their company, meetings with higher-ups where they work, help with a case study on a business similar to theirs, conversations about career paths, and either question and answer sessions as a group or the opportunity to email them with specific questions (though you should understand that these mentors are busy business people on top of their connection with the program). A mentor you connect with organically is more likely to have time to take a call, do a lunch meeting, or answer an email in-depth in order to help you work through issues. It’s really just about what you are able to work out depending on the access you have to mentoring possibilities.

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